Bruce Cassidy: Charlie McAvoy has ‘played well, just not to his ceiling’

Matt Kalman
November 14, 2019 - 2:11 pm

Maybe it’s the expectations that come with not only entering his third NHL season but also making $4.9 million that make it feel like Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy isn’t quite improving as quickly as hope or  getting the job done as well as he should on Boston’s top defense pair this season.

The 21-year-old has been on the ice with Zdeno Chara 235 minutes of 5-on-5 action this season and they’ve been on the ice for 13 goals for, seven against (all analytics in this article courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com and are for 5-on-5 ice time). That’s actually a better percentage than last year, when they were on for 32 goals for, 26 goals against in 587 minutes.

Even since the Bruins beat Pittsburgh and then went on the 0-2-2 stretch they’re taking up to Toronto for an Atlantic Division showdown on Friday, that pair has been decent, allowing two goals to four that have been scored by Boston with them on the ice. And they’ve been on for 22 shots for, 22 shots against in 37:34 of ice time against the opposition’s top lines.

But more is always going to be expected of the top pair, and it doesn’t help that McAvoy has gone 18 games this season without a goal and has just four assists. Even without playing on the first power play the Bruins should expect more offense, especially considering coach Bruce Cassidy thinks that side of McAvoy’s game is his strength right now.

“I think he’s got a tough assignment every night playing against the best players. As a young guy I think his natural, best ability right now at his age is his puck moving and ability to join the rush and make some plays. He doesn’t finish, but he’s had some looks. So I think that will balance out, I really do, the more he shoots,” said Cassidy after practice Friday before pointing out the scoring chance the defenseman passed up in overtime.

Cassidy then addressed McAvoy’s challenge on the defensive end of the ice.

“The defensive side of things, there’s a ways to go for Charlie still because he’s playing against the best players every night,” the coach said. “And whether we should put him in that position or not is open to debate, but we feel he can handle it with Zee there as his partner. We got away from it a bit with Grizz, injury happens, so put that on the back burner. But I don’t think Charlie’s unique as a young guy to [not> be able to come in and defend like a 10-year vet, I think there’s a learning curve. You learn guys’ tendencies, you learn which ice to protect more than others, when to go. So that’s how I feel Charlie’s game’s been so far.”

“I think he’s played well, just not to his ceiling.”

In particular, Cassidy wants McAvoy to defend the middle of the ice better, especially on rushes, and force guys to the outside, a tenet that’s been part of the coach’s philosophy since he took the Bruins’ reigns.

McAvoy, who called himself his “own worst devil on his shoulder” because he’s so hard critiquing himself, is concentrating on this aspect of the game and trying to do thing in practice and away from the rink that might close that experience gap more quickly and continue to make him a viable option for a defense pair that’s going to get the toughest assignments every night.

“I think everything in the game … is kind of circumstantial, as far as rushes, every rush is different, McAvoy told WEEI.com. “I think it’s something that we continue to work on, it’s something that I take pride in, playing responsible and solid defensively, and something that me and Zee have always taken a lot of pride in. So it’s always the same stuff, just watching clips and get back and work on it in practice and try and get better every day.”

Cassidy acknowledged that Brandon Carlo was a strong partner for Chara in the past, but that the Bruins like the way they move the puck better when McAvoy is with Chara and Carlo is with Torey Krug. The Bruins also got all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final with the Chara-McAvoy pair leading the team in ice time.

So it seems McAvoy will get every inch of rope from Cassidy to at least continue to help keep the opposition of the scoreboard.

Shorthanded trip to Toronto

Zach Senyshyn (lower body) is the latest Bruins forward to hit the sidelines. He’s going to miss at least four weeks and Trent Frederic was called up from Providence of the AHL to replace him.

Brett Ritchie practiced Friday but did not make the trip to Toronto. Krug (upper body), Jake DeBrusk (lower body), David Backes (upper body) did not practice or travel, so they’re definitely out for Saturday’s game at home against Washington. Ritchie could get in the mix against the Capitals.

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